L.L. Bean is currently running my favorite commercial. Ordinarily we record our favorite programs and watch them later so we can skip the commercials, but every time I catch a glimpse of this one, I stop and watch it. Four adorable children wearing head lamps run into the living room and sit on the couch before the fireplace to wait for Santa Claus. Their expectant, excited expressions capture the essence of childhood. My hat is off to whoever directed and filmed those children. They wriggle, squirm, and then settle in for a long night’s wait. The next frame shows them all sleeping on the couch with all their lights still shining. Then a voice says, “Memories that last start with gifts that last.” It’s a great commercial, but I’m not so sure about the veracity of the observation.
I wonder how many of the gifts we receive in a lifetime we remember. Take a sheet of paper and try to make a list. I did and it was a short one at best. Certainly I remember some of the presents I’ve received. When I was a freshman at UGA, I came home at Thanksgiving and helped Sarah Nell wrap presents for Mama. My mother started her Christmas shopping in June at the very latest; she bought gifts for practically every one in Jeff Davis County and a few that lived outside it. Mountains of gifts always awaited wrapping. As we curled ribbons and carefully cut snowman paper, I discovered a doll Mama had bought for some little girl. This doll could cry, wet, crawl, talk, and coo. It did everything except wash dishes.
“Man, I would have loved this doll,” I said, holding it up to show Sarah Nell. “I never liked Barbie dolls like my peers. I always wanted the baby dolls. This one is amazing. If only she’d been on the market when I was little, I would have given my left arm for her.”
On Christmas Eve night a month later, I had a doll under the tree. It was funny and Mama teased me about it for years. I gave the doll to some lucky child and stored the memory away to take out and play with later. I still laugh about it now and then. The doll was mine only briefly, but that memory has lasted many, many years. I bet the poor doll’s long since gone the way of the trash bin.
In my jewelry chest rests a pair of gold earrings that I treasure above all my other jewelry. My boys carefully chose them for me when they were still all at home and living under my roof. Their excitement in shopping for them together and getting along long enough to actually purchase them thrilled me. I still wear those earrings often and remember the day at the Waycross Mall when that miracle occurred. It’s a favorite memory of mine and makes me a bit misty-eyed.
Commercials stress finding the perfect gift for our loved ones, and sometimes that’s possible; most times it isn’t. We live in a world of plenty where we go out and buy the things we want. How do we buy presents for someone who has everything? We do the best we can but often wind up with white elephants under the tree.
I wish I’d had the wisdom in my younger years that I’ve discovered now. The presents are not nearly so important as the memories. I want my children and grandchildren to remember painting gingerbread cookies with me. I want them to remember how important it is to help other people and to understand that it truly is better to give than to receive. When they remember our days together later in their lives, I want them to remember piling on my bed to read stories. Certainly I want them to recall the Christmas mornings and piles of presents under the tree. Perhaps they’ll remember some specific presents, but if not, that’s okay.
Memories last a lifetime. All the presents I’ve received throughout the years blur in my memory, but I cherish the time I’ve had with family and friends.